Covid 19, Heartbreak and Beauty

There have been several entries on the CPA Google group decrying human dominance, colonisation of other species territories and destructive exploitation. I believe this too and feel deep remorse about what we have done, so beautifully expressed in Machado’s poem.

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
"In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I'd like all the odor of your roses."
"I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead."
"Well then, I'll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain."
The wind left. And I wept. And I said
"What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?"
Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly

I notice a hesitation in connecting with remorse and a sense of responsibility for human destructiveness. It feels so painful that I fear my heart will break and I will weep so much that I will drown in my own tears. What would make it possible to bear such overwhelming pain?

There could be many responses to this question. This short blog explores what beauty offers.

Firstly beauty can touch us and tenderise the heart in ways that are beyond our control. The melancholy of Machado’s poem has a beauty to it. As babies, what often soothed us was the face of our mother, when she was present, and her absence creates a profound longing in the heart for us as adults. The mysterious fascination of babies for the human face and that reciprocal gleam in the eye when mother and child connect situates beauty in the relational gaze. We become present in profound ways when we see and allow ourselves to be seen.

So what of our present crisis? It already started with mother’s gaze being averted by the fetish of her mobile phone and now she, you, me may be masked. And even if unmasked the gaze of the other may be averted through fear: we may be the carrier, the toxic one whose presence can poison. It is so painful to be shut out, to be blanked. Or to be disallowed from attending funerals of family; not even a good-bye. How can we bear this without becoming defensively shut down ourselves?

This luminous absence can bring an unusual intensity to the online meetings where we can rest in the gaze of the other at a safe distance. We can re-establish our kinship as humans, even carrying the dark shadow of our responsibility for ravaging the planet. The salve of beauty in the presence of a loved other is vital in soothing our troubled heart. And grief is inevitable.

I remember a time when I went for some therapeutic voice work and by a weird synchronicity, the coach chose one of my very favourite songs for me to sing – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. I spent the session weeping which was not what either of us thought we were there for.

The strange thing is that the other-than-human is waiting to be seen. Like us, the non-human nature is longing for that reconnection with the lost species. The times when we allow the veil of our separateness to fall away and surrender, the reciprocal penetration of beauty shines through. Hearing the birds welcome the return of spring or simply sitting quietly watching the trees move in the wind can connect us. Our bereft hearts sense the presence of that other mother, that mysterious presence of whom Rilke says: 

For beauty is nothing
but the onset of terror we’re still just able to bear,
and we admire it so because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.

Climate Psychology Alliance

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